Susan Millar has been concerned with the impending effects of climate change since she was a teenager. Over the last few decades her sense of urgency about climate change has steadily increased. With this frame of mind, she has become a trailblazer when it comes to energy efficiency. Her curiosity and resourcefulness have taken her on a lifelong journey to be as energy efficient as possible in her personal life to help change public and business policies and practices in ways that reduce fossil fuel emissions.
Susan has lived in Madison for some 45 years, all while working to reduce carbon emissions. Her lifestyle has emphasised the importance of energy efficiency and carbon sequestration, an approach that she sought to instill in her children. This includes gardening, composting and creating as little waste as possible. In addition, Susan would bike or walk to work, and her family owned only one vehicle, which they used sparingly. When her family moved into an 1800 sq/ft house built in 1930, they got it insulated and installed energy efficient windows.
After retiring, Susan focused even more on climate change solutions and became active in 350 Madison, a local action group that raises awareness about climate change. She co-leads its Community Climate Solutions Team, which helps local governments and educational institutions reach their climate goals while also broadening local citizen awareness of climate change issues in our community.
In addition, as time and money allowed, Susan took further steps to reduce her housing and transportation carbon emissions. In 2020, she installed solar on her roof, bought an EV, and joined MG&E’s “Time of Use'' program, which lowers the energy rate for customers during off-peak hours. As a result, at least during summers, her monthly gas & electric bill has been between $20 - $30/month--. How cool is that- she was contributing to the renewable energy grid rather than taking from it.
Then, this summer she got her home audited for energy efficiency, which led to investing in improved insulation in her basement and attic. She then replaced her gas stovetop with an induction stovetop, which uses far less energy to heat food by delivering up to 90% of the electromagnetic energy generated. Compared to as little as 38% of the energy delivered when using fossil gas.
Evaluating her situation, she knew her water heater and furnace, though considerably more energy efficient than most, were still using fossil gas fuel. That’s when she delved into the world of heat pumps. After considering both air and ground-source heat pumps, she decided on air-source heating pumps (ASHPs), which moves heat either from or to the air outside the home, compresses it, and directs it through ductwork inside the home. By comparison, ground-source heat pumps are heating/cooling systems that take the heat to or from the ground into the home. Although ground-source heat pumps are more efficient than ASHPs they require drilling into the ground, which is not feasible for small urban yards. The newly-available cold-weather ASHPs can fully heat and cool a home, eliminating the need for both a gas-fired furnace and a conventional air conditioner. Further, heat pump technology is also used for water heaters - these devices (also called hybrid water heaters) obtain heat from the air in the room in which they are installed.
Susan chose a cold climate ASHP to replace her furnace and air conditioner and a hybrid water heater. She sourced the ASHP from Midwest Heating & Cooling just outside of Milwaukee and had a local plumber install a hybrid water heater. Even better, she was able to pass along the efficient furnace and air conditioner that she replaced to a different household to use, thus improving another home’s energy efficiency.
Susan is delighted that almost all the energy she uses in her home and for transportation is from renewable sources, and she enjoys advocating for climate change reform here in Madison and beyond. She is glad to share her experiences with folks who are interested in making steps to reduce their climate footprint. With persistence and resourcefulness, bit by bit, big results are possible!
You can read more about Susan’s home and her experience here.
Alyssa is a senior at Edgewood College studying Communications with a concentration in Media and Message. She is passionate about fighting climate change and is excited to connect with the community and articulate the benefits of creating a more sustainable world through decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and other environmentally friendly practices.
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